(Reuters) – Hundreds of activists in kayaks and small boats fanned out on a Seattle bay on Saturday to protest plans by Royal Dutch Shell to resume oil exploration in the Arctic and keep two of its drilling rigs stored in the city’s port.
Environmental groups have vowed to disrupt the Anglo-Dutch oil company’s efforts to use the Seattle as a home base as it outfits the rigs to return to the Chukchi Sea off Alaska, saying drilling in the remote Arctic waters could lead to an ecological catastrophe.
Demonstrators have planned days of protests, both on land and in Elliott Bay, home to the Port of Seattle, where the first of the two rigs docked on Thursday.
Kayakers on Saturday paddled around the rig yelling “Shell No.” Others unfurled a large banner that read “Climate Justice.”
Environmental groups contend harsh and shifting weather conditions make it impossible to drill in the Arctic, a region with a fragile environment that helps regulate the global climate because of its vast layers of sea ice.
Allison Warden, 42, said she traveled from Alaska to represent her native Inupiaq tribe, which makes its home in the Arctic. She said whales central to the tribe’s culture are particularly vulnerable to oil spills.
“I don’t know what our culture would be without whaling. It’s at the center of everything we do,” she said. “It’s a different relationship than just going to the grocery store. The whale feeds the entire community,” she said.
Opponents of the rigs docking in Seattle, a city known for its environmental causes, include Mayor Ed Murray and the City Council.
Shell was bringing in the rigs and moving ahead as planned despite the opposition and a ruling earlier this week by the city’s planning department that the port’s agreement with the company was in violation of its city permit.
“The timeline now is just to make sure the rigs are ready to go,” said Curtis Smith, a Shell spokesman.
The second rig is expected at the port in the coming days.
Earlier this week, the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management gave conditional approval to Shell’s resumption of fossil fuel exploration in the Arctic, which was suspended after a mishap-filled 2012 season.
The decision was met with approval by some Alaska lawmakers, who said it would bring money and jobs to the state. (Editing by Cynthia Johnston, Eric Beech and Steve Orlofsky)